This is from 2014. In 2015 we will build a different toy package. More soon.

Your mission

This is a step-by-step instruction on how to create your first R package. This will be much easier than you think.

In this tutorial we will develop a package gameday that provides the function gday(). This function takes one argument, the name of your favorite NHL team, and returns TRUE if this team has a game today, and FALSE otherwise. The function will actually be a one-liner because we can read this information from the web.


We assume you have configured your system for R package development. This will ensure you have all the right software installed and that it’s updated. Ignoring this prep will only lead to heartache. Do it.

Set up the directory = RStudio project = R package = Git repo

R expects a certain folder structure for your package. Luckily, the package devtools does this work for us.


!! Replace /path/to/your/package/ with a path that exists on your computer !! Use RStudio’s auto-completion of paths to make this true by definition. To avoid nesting a Git repo within a Git repo, we recommend you NOT put this inside your STAT 545 repository.

This creates a folder gameday and populates it with a couple of files. Navigate to this folder and open gameday.Rproj with RStudio.

Before we talk about the files and folders that were created, let’s put this under version control: Tools > Version Control > Project Setup. Then choose Version control system: Git and initialize a new git repository for this project. Then restart RStudio in this Project.

Now, let’s talk about the contents of our gameday directory.

Files that R expects in a package


Here is where we add information about the package (gameday) and its authors (us). Some fields are pre-filled, but many more fields can be added as necessary. The initial raw version may depend on your version of devtools but should look similar to this:

Package: gameday
Title: What the package does (one line)
Version: 0.1
Authors@R: "First last <> [aut, cre]"
Description: What the package does (one paragraph)
Depends: R (>= 3.1.2)
License: What license is it under?
LazyData: true

Let’s look at those in detail. Bold fields are mandatory:

Hence, a reasonable version of DESCRIPTION after editing would be

Package: gameday
Title: Let R tell you if your NHL team plays today
Authors@R: as.person(c(
    "Bernhard Konrad <> [aut, cre]", 
    "Jennifer Bryan <> [aut]"
Description: Query to check if your NHL team is listed on
    the teams that play today
Depends: R (>= 3.1.2)
License: CC0
LazyData: true

The actual R code

The R code that our package provides is in the R folder. So let’s create a new R script and save it in the R folder with the name gday.R.

The content is the following:

gday <- function(team = "canucks") {
    url <- paste0("",
                  Sys.Date(), ".jsonp")
    grepl(team, RCurl::getURL(url), = TRUE)

We first construct the url where the data for today’s matches is stored and retrieve info from the web. We use grepl() on the result to check if team is among them. See what the data file looks like and compare with today’s matches on Notice that we use RCurl::getURL(), which means we need to add RCurl to Imports in DESCRIPTION, i.e. we add the line

Imports: RCurl

We don’t have to specify a version number for other packages, but we could if we wanted to. So far so good.

Documenting the function

But what about documentation (what you would see with ?gday)? Luckily, roxygen2 helps us with that and allows us to add the documentation as comments directly in the R script. All we have to do is start the line with #' and use the \@ notation like so:

#' Is it Gameday?
#' This function returns TRUE if your NHL team plays today
#' and FALSE otherwise
#' You know then problem: You're in your office writing R code and
#' suddenly have the urge to check whether your NHL team has a game today.
#' Before you know it you just wasted 15 minutes browsing the lastest
#' news on your favorite hockey webpage.
#' Suffer no more! You can now ask R directly, without tempting yourself
#' by firing up your web browser.
#' @param team
#' @return Logical. \code{TRUE} if \code{team} has a NHL game today,
#' \code{FALSE} otherwise
#' @keywords misc
#' @note case in \code{team} is ignored
#' @export
#' @examples
#' gday()
#' gday("Bruins")
gday <- function(team="canucks") {
  url <- paste0("", Sys.Date(), ".jsonp")
  grepl(team, RCurl::getURL(url),

A few of those tags need explanation

Let devtools, roxygen2 compile the documenation for you

Phew, that was a lot of work, but now we can hand the rest over back to R. In particular, devtools and roxygen2 will compile the documentation


When we run this the first time, the new folder man is created with the file gday.Rd. Go ahead an open it, this is what we would have had to write if it was not for roxygen2 (the syntax resembles the markup language LaTeX).

Also observe that we now have a file NAMESPACE which, as expected, says that the package gameday provides the function gday().

You can also generate documentation with RStudio via the Build menu or the Build tab or the keyboard shortcut given there.

Build the package

As a final step, let’s build the package. In RStudio use the Build tab and choose Build & Reload. That’s it. Your package is now installed, your R session is restarted, and your package is loaded. You are now able to run


and will notice that (on 2014-11-10) the Vancouver Canucks are not playing, but the Calgary Flames do have a game. To see the rendered version of our function documentation, use


As you update the package, frequently run document() and then Build & Reload to try out your latest version. As your package gets bigger, you will want to explore devtools::load_all() as a lighter weight alternative.

What’s next

Congratulations, you just wrote your first R package! This is the end of part 1. In the second part we explore the following:

back to All the package things